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December 21, 2012

Navigating the give and take of holiday presents

The art of giving holiday presents can be a tricky business. So before you buy that expensive wine for a co-worker or cashmere sweater for a bridge partner, make sure you’re versed in your holiday gift-giving etiquette.

“When you get a gift from someone, you feel compelled to give a gift in return, and sometimes that can be awkward,” said etiquette expert Vicky Oliver, author of “301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions.” “The next thing you know you’re buying a gift for everybody.”

The problem can involve any number of scenarios with family, friends or co-workers. Oliver suggests trying to convince the group in question to implement a Secret Santa policy. “It’s economical and creative and a great way to swap gifts without feeling the pressure to buy for everyone,” she said.

But what about those two supremely awkward moments: You buy a gift for someone who doesn’t have one for you, or you are the empty-handed recipient?

For the former scenario, Dr. David Reiss, a San Diego-based psychiatrist, said the most important thing to do is to hide your disappointment at not getting a present in return.

“You don’t want to say something that’s so superficial that it looks like you’re condescending,” Reiss said. “The best way to handle this is to sort of ignore it, as if you weren’t expecting anything at all. Because any statement you make, such as, ‘Don’t feel bad about this,’ is implying the person should feel bad about it.”

For the person who receives the gift, yet has nothing to offer in return, behaving graciously can be a gift all its own, Reiss said.

“Be legitimately appreciative,” Reiss said. “If it’s a matter where you really can’t afford it, it’s best not to go into too many personal details. Just say, ‘I really appreciate this.’ Let them know you’re grateful for the gesture.”

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